"Islamic State" is the presumed culprit of the latest terror attack in Turkey. It was in response to Ankara’s new course in the war in Syria and reveals the jihadi organization’s view of the world.
Turkey will "complete cleanse" Islamic State from its border region, the country's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Monday. It will support countries and groups to that end. Over the weekend, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a wedding in southeastern Turkey, killing at least 54 people.
Turkey has been an increasingly popular target for IS in recent weeks and months. An alleged member of the terrorist group killed 45 people and injured more than 200 others at the airport in Istanbul on June 28. In March, a crowded shopping street in the center of Turkey's largest city was attacked by a suicide bomber. Three Israelis and one Iranian were killed. IS was suspected to have carried out that and another attack in January, when a suicide bomber killed 12 in Istanbul’s old city.
IS hasn’t formally claimed responsibility for the latest attack, though there’s good reason to believe the group was behind it, Mideast expert Serhat Erkmen told DW. However, IS currently has little strategic reason to target Turkey.
US-backed Kurdish forces in Syria and Iraq, as well as Iraqi government forces, are far greater enemies to IS. "It makes little strategic sense for IS to sow chaos in Turkey. It’s the only power able to confront Kurdish fighters operating in Syria as People’s Protection Units (YPG)."
Turkey’s questionable role
Turkey has had a growing interest in the war in Syria. From the beginning, it has expressed bringing down the regime of Bashar al-Assad. This included supporting Sunni extremists. "The goal was to strengthen all forces against President Bashar al-Assad," the Islamic scholar, Wilfried Buchta, told "Spiegel" magazine in January. "Turkey possibly supported IS in secret, at least logistically, to this end."
At the same time, the Turkish government was concerned that Kurds in northern Syria, as in northern Iraq, could gain more influence and expand their region of control. The fear has been that Kurds there could establish their own state, furthering dreams of autonomy held by Turkey’s Kurds.
This overriding concern was the dominant issue influencing Turkey’s Syria policy as the war progressed, said Michael Lüders, a Mideast expert. "For a long time, IS was supported by Turkish security agencies, with the intention of battling Kurds in northern Syria, who are closely connected to Kurds in Turkey - the PKK," he told German public broadcaster ARD.
Kurds the common enemy
IS in turn viewed Turkey as a partner at first. "IS commanders told us there was no need to fear Turkey," a former IS member told "Newsweek" magazine in July 2014. "That means there was strong cooperation with Turkey. Nothing would happen to us from that side," he said, adding IS saw the Turkish army as an ally in its fight against the Kurds. "The Kurds were the common enemy."
This alliance is now over. Turkey has distanced itself greatly from IS, which the organization considered a declaration of war - it used the occasion to turn Turkey into an enemy. Its weapon is the same as elsewhere: terrorism.
It’s no accident the recent attack on the wedding took place in Kurdish territory. The IS goal is two-fold: Whip up Kurdish resentment of the Turkish government, on the basis that it isn’t doing enough to protect them, and attract Turkish nationalists who vehemently oppose public life for Kurds in Turkey. The attack can also appeal to Sunni radicals.
The overarching strategy is clear: IS is on the run from Iraq to Libya. It has no long-term future. Its only lasting legacy can be an onslaught of terrorism directed at its opponents. The recent wave of violence suggests IS views this as a worthwhile goal.